- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Ray Lewis is worried about what’s happening to his sport.

The Baltimore linebacker who epitomizes hard hits in the NFL fears that the league is stripping away the inherent violence and “the game will be diluted very quickly.”

“My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played, and whatever happens happens,” Lewis said Wednesday about the NFL’s decision to crack down on dangerous and flagrant hits.

The NFL imposed huge fines on three players _ Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson and New England’s Brandon Meriweather _ for illegal hits last weekend, although none of those plays drew penalties on the field. It warned that, starting with this week’s games, violent conduct will be cause for suspension.

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter was clearly perplexed by the decision.

“There’s no more hitting hard. That’s what our game is about. It’s a gladiator sport,” Porter said. “I mean, the whole excitement of people getting hit hard, big plays happening, stuff like that.

“Just watch _ the game is going to change.”

Violence has always been a part of the NFL, bringing soaring TV ratings and strong attendance _ along with the allure that accompanied tackles by Chuck Bednarik, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, and Jack “The Assassin” Tatum.

The question is how much to allow.

“Physical, tough football is what people are attracted to,” said Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. “Violent, unnecessary hits that put people at risk, not just for the careers but lives … we’re not subscribing to the notion fans want that.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell told the teams that “further action is required to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques and of playing within the rules.”

“It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players,” he said.

But some players think the league is asking for something much more difficult: complete changes in playing style _ changes that fans don’t want to see.

Not surprisingly, defensive players are most critical.

“What they’re trying to say _ ‘We’re protecting the integrity’ _ no, you’re not,” Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. “It’s ruining the integrity. It’s not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch Sunday if we can’t make contact.”

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